Paul Valéry1 Valéry’s “Variation sur Descartes” excellently evokes the vanishing act that has haunted philosophy ever since Darwin overturned the Cartesian tradition. If my body is composed of nothing but a team of a few trillion robotic cells, mindlessly interacting to produce all the large-scale patterns that tradition would attribute to the nonmechanical workings of my mind, there seems to be nothing left over to be me. Lurking in Darwin’s shadow there is a bugbear: the incredible Disappearing Self.2 One of (...) Darwin’s earliest critics saw what was coming and could scarcely contain his outrage. (shrink)
Machine generated contents note: 1. Introduction; 2. The prehistory of classical dynamics; 3. The astronomical revolution; 4. Precursors to Newtonian dynamics; 5. The Newtonian synthesis; 6. Philosophical aspects of the Newtonian synthesis; 7. The history of statics; 8. The development of dynamics after Newton; 9. The 'Newtonian' approach after Newton; 10. From virtual work to Lagrange's equation; 11. Extremal principles; 12. Some philosophical reflections on explanation and theory; 13. Conservation principles; 14. Hamilton's equations; 15. Canonical transformations, optical analogies and algebraic (...) structures; 16. The search for new foundations; 17. New directions in the applications of dynamics; 18. Spacetime formulations of Newtonian dynamics; 19. Formalizations: mass and force; 20. Relationist dynamics; 21. Modes of explanation; 22. Retrospective and conclusions. (shrink)
This is the text of a talk given at the Robert and Sarah Boote Conference in Reductionism and Anti-Reductionism in Physics, 22-23 April, 2006, Center for Philosophy of Science University of Pittsburgh.
Salmon, following Reichenbach and others, maintained that distant simultaneity was conventional in a special relativistic world in a way in which this was not so in prerelativistic spacetime. This paper surveys and criticizes a number of proposals to unpack this claim. It goes on to argue that if the claim has validity, it rests upon differing facts about epistemic accessibility of temporal relations in the different spacetimes, and not directly upon any facts about differing causal structures in these worlds.
It has been argued, most trenchantly by Nancy Cartwright, that the diversity of the concepts and regularities we actually use to describe nature and predict and explain its behavior leaves us with no reason to believe that our foundational physical theories actually "apply" outside of delicately contrived systems within the laboratory. This paper argues that, diversity of method notwithstanding, there is indeed good reason to think that the foundational laws of physics are universal in their scope.
In this paper, I want to focus attention on ways in which the role of idealization in science has been rather neglected by standard methodology, and suggest that this distinct role for idealization is the truly important role it plays in science. Further, I suggest that there are a number of important cases in theoretical science where the issue of idealization is not the issue of misrepresentation in some sense. Rather, the question is which of several alternative idealizations correctly represents (...) the fundamental causalstructure of the world, and which idealizations, consequently, are appropriate for the scientific account of the world that is correct in its basic notion of what is an appropriate explanatory format for dealing with the physical phenomena in question. My argument is that the issues of idealization are important for methodology not primarily for the reasons that have so far exercised most philosophers of science who have worried about idealization in science. (shrink)
Skeptics have cast doubt on the idea that scientific theories give us a true picture of an objective world. Lawrence Sklar examines three kinds of skeptical arguments about scientific truth, and explores the important role they play within foundational science itself. Sklar demonstrates that these kinds of philosophical critique are employed within science, and reveals the clear difference between how they operate in a scientific context and more abstract philosophical contexts. The underlying theme of Theory and Truth is that science (...) and philosophy are essential to one another. Sklar advances the claim that one cannot understand the methods of science without a comprehension of philosophy, and one cannot fruitfully pursue philosophy of science without understanding fundamental science as well. (shrink)
About the Series Contemporary philosophy of science combines a general study from a philosophical perspective of the methods of science, with an inquiry, again from the philosophical point of view, into foundational issues that arise in the various special sciences. Methodological philosophy of science has deep connections with issues at the center of pure philosophy. It makes use of important results, for example, in traditional epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophy of language. It also connects in various ways with other disciplines (...) such as the history and sociology of the sciences, with pure logic, and with such branches of mathematics as probability theory. These volumes are, for the most part, devoted to readings in the methodological aspects of the philosophy of science. One volume, however, takes up the philosophical issues in the foundations of a particularly important special science, that is the issues in the foundations of theories of contemporary physics. The methodological volumes cover a number of crucial general problem areas. The first volume takes up issues in the nature of scientific explanation, and the related issues of the nature of scientific law and of the casual relation among events. The second volume explores issues in the nature and structure of scientific theories. The third volume collects inquiries into the nature of scientific change, as one theory is replaced by another. Volume four is devoted to readings concerning the nature of probability and the nature and justification of inductive reasoning in science. The following volume continues the exploration of the issue of confirming and rejecting theories with a series of readings devoted to Bayesian methodologies in science and to the exploration of non-inductive strategies for rationalizing belief. Finally, volume six explores three major problem areas in the foundation of physics: the nature and rationale for physical theories of space and time; the interpretive problems arising out of the quantum theory; and some puzzles arising out of statistical mechanical theories of physics. The readings are selected and arranged to provide the user with systematic access to the most important contemporary themes in methodological philosophy of science and in philosophy of physics. The selections include many recent contributions to the field, as well as papers and extracts from books and journals otherwise not easily available. (shrink)
In theoretical physics the physical states of systems are represented by components of mathematical structures. This paper explores three ways in which the representation of states by mathematics can give rise to foundational problems, sometimes on the side of the mathematics and sometimes on the side of understanding what the physical states are that the mathematics represents, that is on the side of interpreting the theory. Examples are given from classical mechanics, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics.
Statistical mechanics is one of the crucial fundamental theories of physics, and in his new book Lawrence Sklar, one of the pre-eminent philosophers of physics, offers a comprehensive, non-technical introduction to that theory and to attempts to understand its foundational elements. Among the topics treated in detail are: probability and statistical explanation, the basic issues in both equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, the role of cosmology, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the alleged foundation of the very notion (...) of time asymmetry in the entropic asymmetry of systems in time. The book emphasises the interaction of scientific and philosophical modes of reasoning, and in this way will interest all philosophers of science as well as those in physics and chemistry concerned with philosophical questions. The book could also be read by an informed general reader interested in the foundations of modern science. (shrink)
The study of the physical world had its origins in philosophy, and, two-and-one-half millennia later, the scientific advances of the twentieth century are bringing the two fields closer together again. So argues Lawrence Sklar in this brilliant new text on the philosophy of physics.Aimed at students of both disciplines, Philosophy of Physics is a broad overview of the problems of contemporary philosophy of physics that readers of all levels of sophistication should find accessible and engaging. Professor Sklar’s talent for clarity (...) and accuracy is on display throughout as he guides students through the key problems: the nature of space and time, the problems of probability and irreversibility in statistical mechanics, and, of course, the many notorious problems raised by quantum mechanics.Integrated by the theme of the interconnectedness of philosophy and science, and linked by many references to the history of both disciplines, Philosophy of Physics is always clear, while remaining faithful to the complexity and integrity of the issues. It will take its place as a classic text in a field of fundamental intellectual importance. (shrink)
Those who think of some aspects of the world as "physically necessary" usually think of this kind of necessity as being confined to the general law of nature, initial conditions being "contingent." Tachyon theory and general relativity provide independent but related reasons for thinking that some initial states are, however, "impossible." And statistical mechanics seems to lead us to conclude that some initial conditions are, if not impossible, "highly improbable." We are then, led from these aspects of physics to wonder (...) if initial conditions are always "freely specifiable" and in the domain of physical contingency. (shrink)
Tipler has previously argued that the nature of the universe is a matter of contingency rather than necessity. Now he argues that the existence of the universe can also be demonstrated to be a matter of necessity. I argue that both arguments are fatally flawed, and that neither supports the conclusion it is intended to establish.
Despite over one-hundred years of effort, the origin of temporal asymmetry in the physical world still eludes us. While much has been learned about the role played by fundamental instabilities in microdynamics, by the imperfect isolation of systems and by cosmological facts in the origin of the behavior described by kinetic theory and thermodynamics, important puzzles still remain which continue to make the origins of asymmetric thermal behavior out of dynamically time symmetric underlying laws mysterious to us.